You think you know Rashida Jones, don't you? Sweet, smart,
pretty, quirky young actress who has been rising steadily through the
ranks for the last decade or so. Daughter of music legend Quincy Jones
and Mod Squad beauty Peggy Lipton. Jones has been turning our
heads for years as part of the brilliant ensembles of The Office
and Parks and Recreation. At the same time, she has been nursing
a growing film career, playing significant supporting roles in such
films as I Love You, Man, The Social Network, Our Idiot Brother
and The Muppets.
However, Jones wants you to see a whole new side of her
talents. This side is on display in Celeste and Jesse Forever, a
new offbeat romantic comedy that Jones not only plays the lead role in,
but also co-wrote with her co-star, character actor Will McCormack.
McCormack had been in movies like Syriana, Prime, Must Love Dogs
Jones and McCormack had dated briefly years ago. They
quickly realized that they didn't work as a couple, but they really
clicked as friends. Eventually they became collaborators. Together
they crafted Celeste and Jesse Forever, giving Jones a character
who was as smart, pretty and funny as most she plays, but also one who
was notably spikier than some she had played before. McCormack also
plays the supporting role of Skillz, a pot-dealing lothario who is close
friends with the couple.
Unlike most romantic comedies, Celeste and Jesse Forever
starts weeks after the title characters have broken up. However, as
life-long friends, they are trying to navigate the tricky waters of
keeping the friendship after the love is gone. They still live next
door to each other and do everything together, much to the annoyance of
their friends. However, can their relationship survive the two
returning to the dating world?
The film shows a fun and funky view of modern Los Angeles
life, with smart direction by indie auteur Lee Toland Krieger,
who had previously helmed the acclaimed movie The Vicious Kind.
A few days before the movie opened, we were one of a few
media outlets who were able to sit down with Jones, McCormack and
Krieger at the Regency Hotel in New York and discuss the new film.
I love the fact that
this is not a typical romantic comedy. A new golden age of romantic
comedies has to happen and this is one of the movies that could help
Yes. I love that.
Did you have the
ending in mind from the beginning? How did the whole writing process
First of all, thank you.
Yeah, thank you. I mean, if we could start any kind of golden age...
any kind of age... (laughs) that's huge.
Anything with age at all in it.
(laughs) Anything with age in it is great. We definitely knew
what we wanted the ending to be. The ending was essential to the
storytelling. We wanted to be able to honestly convey the way that it
feels when you are trying to let go of somebody, in a way that felt like
it would reflect people's lives. I feel like often I go see movies and
I really like them and they are great and they are entertaining, but I
don't feel represented. I feel like they stop when it gets really ugly
and gross and things start to go really bad. We wanted to show that a
certain scenes, did you email each other back and forth or did you sit
in a room?
We wrote the whole movie side by side, just like this, on one computer,
in Rashida's back yard. Pretty quickly... in about four months. We
boarded the movie for about two months and knew sort of where we wanted
to go with it. We knew the ending. We knew it was always going to end
that way. [We] kind of wrote the ending first. Once we were together,
it was pretty easy to collaborate. We've known each other for so long.
It was actually fun.
Yeah, I was in a dark place. (laughs)
You were. I was pretty happy. It was great.
You were great, actually. You were so happy.
That summer was great for me. (laughs)
Yeah, for you... But also, I think there was the advantage of... not
having the confidence to feel like you were going to finish a script on
your own, because I had never done it before, was advantageous. I said
the advantage was advantageous, but what I meant was it was advantageous
in the way that I relied really heavily in Will at every step of the
process, so it really was a sincerely collaborative experience. It felt
like I had one other limb to lean on. I think you felt that way about
me, right? (laughs)
How did you come up
with the whole idea of a romantic comedy about a couple that had already
We had had friends, and we'd been in dysfunctional relationships with
exes that were sort of hard to interpret. We just thought it would be a
good premise for a film. We thought it could be comedic, but also it
could be heartbreaking, like it was in real life. It just felt common
amongst people in our crew, that they had had this really intense
relationship with someone that they struggled to let go of or define.
It just felt relevant.
I loved all the
inside jokes between Celeste and Jesse. Did you take any of those from
Unfortunately, yes. (laughs)
We masturbate small vegetables.
We do jerk off small... and large vegetables. (laughs) That
came in like the third draft, because we were like: "We do that. Do you
think that's okay? Is that too weird? Is that going to turn the whole
movie into something weird?" But, ultimately it was honest. (laughs
again) And it's a really great shorthand to show how close these
people are and how immature and sometimes irritating they are.
When we sold the movie the first time... when we walked into the room
for the meeting, the executive was masturbating a small pencil. I felt
like I had finally made it...
Can you masturbate something else? Does it have to be yourself?
I don't know. Good question.
Yes, masturbate means
self pleasuring. You guys were fondling...
Yes, fondling! Pleasuring. Pleasuring the vegetable.
To answer your question: Yeah, the majority of the stupid things that
Celeste and Jesse do, we do when we have writer's block.
Both of you have
worked in acting previously, but this is the first time you are
performing your own screenplay. How did that make doing the roles
Definitely acting a part that you write is easier, because you tend to
write it in a cadence that feels comfortable for you. You've read it
over and over again. If something doesn't feel true, you just change
You know all your lines, which is great.
You know all your lines. Actually, there were a lot of times when the
script supervisor was like: "Umm, you said it wrong..." I'm like:
Right, sorry. But I feel like it was generally easier to say something
that you had some hand in creating.
But it was more pressure as a writer. As an actor, you usually just go
and do your job and go home. Writing felt a lot more vulnerable. If
the jokes aren't funny, it's our fault. It felt like more of a
challenge. More pressure, but more rewarding, too.
How did you juggle
the responsibility of writer and actor? How much were you involved in the look and feel of the
I was... maybe I'm wrong, but the minute I came to set, I wanted to not
be in writer mode. I respect and trust Lee implicitly. He's really,
really good at his job. And his job is to tell me what to do.
(laughs) So I wanted to just be there for him as an actress. I
didn't want to deal with anything business oriented or writer oriented.
Lee Toland Krieger:
I'll second that. Rashida was great about coming to set and not trying
to produce. Which we needed, it's a tiny movie, it's kind of an all
hands on deck experience. I think Will and I were pretty clear with you
and we were always thinking that we needed you to just act. It's such
an enormous responsibility. You're carrying the movie. That
part is a total tour de force performance that Rashida gives, I
don't think she could have done it if she was trying to juggle all those
things. You still had to a little bit, probably, but for the most part
it was interesting to see how you could just flip a switch. She
would show up having produced the day before and all the sudden just be
in actress mode. But I think that's the reason the performance is as
amazing as it is. She was just totally focused on the role.
I love the fact that
you nailed so many things about LA culture. Did you have locations
envisioned in the script, or did you hand that off to Lee?
Lee's vision and focus for what the movie was going to look like, where
it was going to be, it did nothing but expand and elevate our story. We
were so lucky in that way, because he's got a crazy, focused eye. He
understood from reading our script that we wanted to show a little bit
of a different side of LA and then took it to the next level with his DP
[Director of photography].
Lee Toland Krieger:
David Lanzenberg, our DP, takes a lot of the credit here, but thank you
for the nice words. But she and Will really had all of those LA nuances
in the script. Rashida is from LA. I'm from LA. Will's been in LA
forever. There's just things like the kinds of yogurt shops you have in
Los Angeles and the fact that if you live in Westwood it means
something. (all laugh) Those nuances were all there. I can't
take any credit. I think what we tried to do as best we could – we
didn't have a lot of money and we had to find locations that we could
afford. So it really became a product of... the idea became let's find
a spot or part of the town that we can capture LA and it doesn't feel
like the postcard version of the city. Also, you look at movies like –
from Shampoo to Greenberg, that do LA well – they
focus on, generally, one part of town and really try to get that part of
town right. As you know, Venice is so vastly different from Silver Lake
and that is so vastly different from Beverly Hills. So we tried to do a
little bit of that. But again, it was on the page.
One of the strengths
of the movie to me was how much of a hypocrite Celeste is in some ways.
In a lot of ways.
Did the guys have to
push you into that? Did you want to go further with it?
I was really wanting to play a dynamic, complicated character. I've
played a lot of nice, sweet, friendly, affable, dependable, sturdy,
pragmatic characters. We struggled a little bit at the beginning of
writing with how unlikeable to make her, because at some point you want
people to go along with the ride. But we definitely wanted her to come
off hypocritical and judgmental and myopic, because it gives her
somewhere to go. By the way, the place she goes is not that far. A lot
of really, really tough things happen to her and she changes like
that much [holds her thumb and forefinger close together, but not
touching]. She just doesn't yell at someone in line. That idea – it
takes so much to change you a little – was important to us. It's
easier to do when you start somebody in a place where they have a lot of
flaws that they are not necessarily conscious of.
Yeah, it takes a lot to change even a little. It's so hard to change.
Celeste does mature, not a ton, but a little. I feel like that felt
realistic to us. But, also, I have to say that in the wrong hands I
feel like Celeste could be really unlikeable. Rashida's performance
does a great job of balancing a character that is tricky.
How did you balance
those things in the story? Because the film feels very real.
Thank you. Lee. It's Lee.
The script, we wrote the movie to the best of our ability. We wanted to
write a comedy about a broken heart. I know when I've been in pain,
it's been really painful, and it's also been the funniest times of my
life. (chuckles) So, we wrote what we knew and we left it up to
Lee to handle those terms. If one likes the movie, they like it because
it does represent that experience, which is absurd and also really
horrible, I think he did a really good job of navigating that. But, I
think it's hard.
Lee Toland Krieger:
Thank you. I'll just add that a lot of what these guys did
on the page was so brilliant that you could have a moment like Rashida...
Celeste... falling out of a trash can. At least if you hear that, that
sounds like a broad, physical, slapstick joke. But it's done in such a
way and her performance is so real that, so authentic, she's hurting so
bad, got this mask on, that you end up feeling... I always reference it,
but Judy Davis screaming at Sydney Pollock in Husbands and Wives,
she's screaming at him and heartbroken and feels betrayed, yet it's
hysterically funny because her date is right behind her. I think it's
just one of those things where these guys struck that perfect balance
where you could have a physical comedy moment and within it is this very
real performance. Rashida does such an amazing job of emanating this
vulnerability at all times. I think, back to the question earlier, you
can have somebody who really pushes the boundaries of being acerbic and
somewhat impenetrable, and yet with Rashida being so likeable and so
vulnerable all the time, that always exists. I like to think we never
lose the audience on her journey, because that always exists there.
That's what a really great actress can do.
Can we just stage round tables from now on? It's great. It's
Why do you think
relationships seem so much better after they are lost? Why do you think
people get nostalgic for relationships that didn't work?
Joni Mitchell. Joni Mitchell never lies. "Don't know what you got 'til
it's gone." I think our brains are programmed to remember pleasure and
forget pain. They just are. That's why people can survive childbirth
and pregnancy and whatever. Also, in this particular story, it feels
like the life happenings are so violent. They are so large, the things
that happen. She's confronted with the loss in such an immediate way.
It's almost impossible to ignore. It's not like something you can move
away from. It's right in your face.
We were saying yesterday that women hurt more, initially, but men regret
Yeah. Men deny and deny and deny and when they finally feel it, it's
too late. They regret it forever. Women have no choice but to process
the pain as it's happening.
And move on...
...and move on.
We're not going to
give away any spoilers, but one of the things this film addresses is
that you may or may not find your soulmate. A lot of romantic comedies
have the same types of guys – bad boys who turn out to have a heart of
gold. This film made them different. What do you think of the role of
Jesse [played by Andy Samberg] and the guy played by Chris Messina. Who
do you think was the ideal guy for your character?
For my character? I thought you were going to be personal, maybe about
me. I think mainly we wanted to try to take what people... I mean,
listen, conventions work. Archetypes work. That's the reason that they
are what they are. We wanted to take those and try to invert them
slightly, so there was something you were used to so you could grab onto
it, and feel like you connect with it – and then go a little bit to the
left or a little bit to the right. Especially Paul. We wrote that part
for Chris Messina, who is such a great actor. He is like me, he plays
these affable, dependable, sweet boyfriends and friends or whatever.
But Messina has a little bit more spikiness than that. We wanted to
show him when he's full-throttle trying to make it happen. But he's
also really sweet, so he has to pull back. I feel like there is a good
tension there with that character. We're like, you think he's one
thing, and then he's another thing, but he's actually that thing and
then he's a mix of the two at some point. But also, I don't like that
thing either that you know it's the sheep that's really the wolf. You
know what is going to happen at the end. You know she's going to end up
with him. You know she hates him and it's going to be like so perfect.
And then she wakes up. I have to say, sorry, side comment, I don't
think that happens. Somebody asked me that earlier today. "Do you
think that friendship can turn into romance?" At this age, I don't
think so. I think you have to have romance first. I don't think you
can just turn around and decide that you want to sleep somebody a lot.
Lee Toland Krieger:
Very rare when something like that happens. Let me just add one thing
as sort of a kudos to Chris Messina, who did something that's so hard to
do. We had discussed this idea that he was a guy that grew up and was
never the best looking guy in his class. He was never the star
... the hot man...
Lee Toland Krieger:
But all the sudden he's 35. He's got a good job. He's good looking,
he's not like devastatingly handsome, but a good looking guy. And he's
all of the sudden decided that he can try on this sort of lothario
thing. But it doesn't really work because he isn't...
... He doesn't know how...
Lee Toland Krieger:
Girls who were beautiful from six years old and on are different from
girls who weren't beautiful until 19, after all the awkwardness sort of
left. Do you know what I mean?
It's like The Greatest American Hero. He gets the cape, but he
doesn't know how to do it.
Lee Toland Krieger:
Yeah. But, more to the point, I think in life you generally run into
people who are... you know, there is a girl who has these great
qualities and a girl who has these great qualities and you want
to kind of mash them together. That's kind of what Andy and Chris are –
you know, Jesse and Paul. She wants the blend of the two. I feel like
that's life. You know the chances are that you're not going to meet the
perfect person, every last little detail, check every box. It's just
which one do you want to make it work with?
It's a science experiment. You can put two elements together and
hopefully it's a compound that works. I think for Celeste and Jesse,
there is something about their dynamic that will never change. She'll
always kind of be in charge. Even if they worked it out again, they'd
end up back in that groove, you know? She needs somebody who is going
to call her on her shit. Paul may or may not be that person, but she
has to create a different dynamic to be happy.
Will, when you were
writing this, were you thinking of yourself as Jesse, or did you always
see Skillz as the fun character for you?
We wrote it in our own voices, so we were initially reading it on first
draft. Of course, I read Jesse. We had a lot of fun, But it was never
a real option for me. I'm a character actor. I was happy. If I could
play parts like Skillz in movies forever, I'd be happy. Andy felt like
a really [good choice.] I've known Andy for a long time, too and he and
Rashida have been great friends for a long time, so they have a sort of
built-in intimacy already, that she and I have. It was also exciting to
watch him do this for the first time in his career. So, not really.
For a millisecond, but no.
Lee, you directed and
Vicious Kind. What was the biggest difference in directing something
you hadn't written?
Lee Toland Krieger:
I'll start by saying, it's not exactly the answer, but it's a very
different movie, but both movies deal with heartbreak. That's really
the core of both of these movies. I'd seen a lot of people talk about
the [first] movie as being dabbling with misogyny. I really wanted to
tell a story that A) I thought was more accessible, but B) was female
driven. What better story to tell than this one? But more to the point
of your question, It's tough for me to say. For the most part, I wanted
to get involved with these two guys because I really loved the story and
I loved these two characters. I'm not really addressing the point of
your question, I'm sorry. I got sidetracked. Maybe I need my second
cup of coffee. Here's the great thing. We had like nine months. Nine
months to get to know [each other]. These guys go back forever, but I
was new to the equation. We had nine months, so we got to watch
movies. We made each other mixes. We really got to know one another as
people first, and talked a lot about the movie. From the get-go we had
the same touchstones. We had Husbands and Wives and Broadcast
News and When Harry Met Sally. So we were already in synch,
to an extent. These guys were really gracious in letting me direct the
movie. At the same time, I would have been a fool to try to ignore the
fact that I had two people who were so close and knew every nuance of
this story. Literally every single one. In the past, if I'd get jammed
up, I'm kind of on my own. I have to figure it out, for better or
worse. Here, I've got two of the funniest, smartest people I know, who
are also the writers and actors in the movie. So I think it probably
took us a minute to be in the groove, because it was different for me
and I think different for them, being the writers and actors. Once we
found our rhythm, I think it was a really smooth process.
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SEE WHAT RASHIDA JONES HAD TO SAY TO US IN 2010!